Glen Campbell ‘The Legacy’ Box Set Review

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After growing up poor with 11 brothers and sisters in Arkansas and learning to play a $4 Sears guitar, Glen Campbell headed for the West Coast and rapidly turned himself into a musical Zelig. He worked with the Champs (albeit not on their big 1958 hit, “Tequila”) and a lot with Ricky Nelson. He contributed frequently to Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound. (That’s Campbell’s guitar, for example, on the Crystals’ “He’s a Rebel.”) He played on lots of Beach Boys hits, including “Help Me, Rhonda,” “Good Vibrations” and the classic Pet Sounds LP and actually joined the group briefly after Brian Wilson’s breakdown. In 1963 alone, he played or sang on more than 500 records. He also contributed to numerous television commercials; recorded demos for Elvis Presley; and was in the house band for TV’s Shindig, the mid-’60s series that showcased many of the era’s leading rockers.

Watch Glen Campbell sing the Brian Wilson-penned “Guess I’m Dumb”

These credits alone would add up to an impressive résumé, but Campbell made his biggest mark when he moved to centerstage. He scored no fewer than 20 pop hits in a 10-year period that began in 1967, and, in 1969, he actually outsold the Beatles.

All of his hits and a whole lot more from Campbell’s repertoire are included on the four-CD, 78-track The Legacy [1961-2017]. The box is an updated edition of a now out-of-print one that appeared in 2003; the earlier release’s fourth disc contained concert material that has been replaced here with studio performances from Campbell’s final decade. (A better alternative might have been to retain the live tracks and put the newer recordings on a fifth CD.) The liner notes in the accompanying booklet have also been expanded to cover the years before the singer’s 2017 death from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

Listen to the huge hit “Rhinestone Cowboy”

Campbell was never afraid to cross boundaries and, as with his career as a backup musician, his solo stuff is all over the place. He recorded ballads, rockers, country, gospel and folk; near the end, he even tackled material from rock acts like the Replacements, Foo Fighters and Green Day. Like most chance-takers, he had his share of flops, some of which resulted from his apparent attraction to schmaltz. You will find some schlock on The Legacy—“I Knew Jesus (Before He Was a Superstar)” and “I Wanna Live,” for example—but the successes outnumber the misses here.

Related: 13 times when Glen Campbell rocked

Glen Campbell

One reason is Campbell’s vocals, which are more impressive than they may initially appear to be. He doesn’t have anywhere near the range of, say, Roy Orbison, and unlike, for example, Rod Stewart, he lacks an instantly identifiable voice. But he conveys enough warmth and intimacy to draw you into his performances. He also knows a great song when he hears one: this box taps a dizzying array of top writers, including Tom Paxton, Tim Hardin, Paul Simon, Neil Diamond, Jackson Browne, Curtis Mayfield, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Fred Neil, and Brian Wilson. But the composer credit you’ll see most often is Jimmy Webb, who supplied some of Campbell’s biggest and best hits, among them “Galveston” and the classic “Wichita Lineman” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix.”

Such numbers are arguably the biggest draw in this chronologically arranged box, but The Legacy offers lots of other pleasures as well. There are a bunch of notable duets, for example, including a seductive medley of Bacharach and David’s “I Say a Little Prayer” and “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” with Anne Murray;

There are four tracks from the album that Campbell made with Bobbie Gentry. (That whole LP is included in Gentry’s own recently released box.) Also memorable are many of the tracks on the last disc, which—like I’ll Be Me, the moving 2014 film about Campbell’s battle with Alzheimer’s—demonstrate the depth of his involvement with his music. Just listen to the last number, Webb’s “Adios,” which Campbell recorded only months before he died. Even as his mind was fading, he sure hung onto the ability to drive a lyric home.

Watch the trailer for The Legacy

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Jeff Burger

Jeff Burger's website, byjeffburger.com, contains more than four decades' worth of music reviews and commentary. His books include the recently published Dylan on Dylan: Interviews and Encounters as well as Lennon on Lennon: Conversations with John Lennon, Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters, and Springsteen on Springsteen: Interviews, Speeches, and Encounters.
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